Archive for the ‘Librarians’ Picks’ Category

Acts of God: Stories

Monday, June 16th, 2014

Acts of God:  Stories by Ellen Gilchrist

For years now I have found the short stories of Ellen Gilchrist to be a pleasure to read.  The selection here does not disappoint.  Each of the ten stories involves a plot that hinges on what might be an act of God that irrevocably alters the direction of the story’s direction.  Whether it be Hurricane Katrina, a tornado, a medical crisis, or dogs that incessantly bark and annoy the neighbors, each act, whether apocalyptic or ordinary, brings about a change in character, fate, or landscape that shifts something and leads the story on in a direction not expected.

When I think of Gilchrist, I think of one of the many gifted Southern storytellers, full of narratives inhabited by quirky characters, who entertain us, enlighten us, or maybe even haunt us.  In these stories the characters whom we meet seem rather ordinary folks:  EMS workers, a housewife, business people traveling to Europe, friends and neighbors.  But then something happens, and life shifts a bit under their feet, setting them in a direction different from where they thought they were headed. Do they emerge as the same people?  Most likely not, but then we’ve had the pleasure of watching them change and grow under the weight of that big or little shift in direction.  This collection if full of surprises and just plain, good old Southern storytelling.

D. L. S.

Can’t and Won’t

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Can’t and Won’t (Stories) by Lydia Davis

It has been a long time since I’ve read short stories this quirky.  Lydia Davis knows how to turn the genre on its head.  Short?  You haven’t seen short until you’ve read, for example, “Bloomington,” one of the selections in this collection:  “Now that I have been here for a little while, I can say with confidence that I have never been here before.”  And that isn’t even the shortest of stories.  While not all of Davis’s stories are this strikingly terse, as many fit more closely what we think of as a story, the briefer ones are what challenge us to consider just what a story is.  Does it need to embrace the classic Aristotelian structure of beginning, middle, and end to be a story?  Could a handful of words force us to consider that “story” could be an impression or a glimpse that is complete in and of itself?  Or could a story be a series of sentences, brief and poignant, that don’t so much complete our reading experience as urge us to long for more?

Some of Davis’s stories are drawn from the letters of Gustave Flaubert; others are dreams; still others are letters that strike us as real compositions sent to various institutions or companies, mostly in the form of complaints or genuine queries.  Imagine being on the receiving end of one of these letters.  Would the receiver even begin to understand the genius or humor behind them?  Still other stories are more like lists of thoughts and ideas, thematically linked.  All, even the longer stories, feel experimental and iconoclastic.  So for a collection of stories that may lead you outside the zone of “safe” story into “daring,” try some of Davis’s fare for a literary meal of delight.

D. L. S.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?:  A Memoir,  by Roz Chast

It can’t be easy, bringing up that dreaded subject with one’s aged parents, the conversation we don’t want to have but know we must have at some point or other.  You know the one:  Isn’t it time to move to a place where people will watch out for you?  How do you want to handle your end-of-life issues?  Do you want to talk about granting power of attorney?  Do you think it’s time to get rid of some of this stuff?  You can phrase it gently or bluntly, but no matter, your parents probably want to discuss these issues less than you do.

Roz Chast as an only child has a particularly formidable task ahead of her, as she deals with her increasingly frail elderly parents, they living in one city, she in another.  Best known perhaps as a staff cartoonist for the New Yorker, Chast writes with a self-deprecating humor that is not just refreshing but also a means to lessen the pain of what she experiences. She shares her experiences with us in the form she knows best – the cartoon.  Through the graphic novel format, along with hand-written text and some photography, Chast guides us through the complicated, stressful, daunting task before her, with wit, grace, and, believe it or not, a lot of laughs.  Well, if we’re laughing, we’re not crying, right?

Her parents, Elizabeth and George, did not have it easy as young children, being descendants of penniless, persecuted immigrants, but their adult lives were firmly in the middle class in Brooklyn, New York, where they raised their one child, Roz. Chast briefly shows us her childhood but uses the bulk of the book to take us on another kind of life journey, the one where she discovers that her gentle father and overbearing mother are getting older and more vulnerable to the frailties of old age.  It begins with the presence of grime.  That to her is the first sign that the once-meticulous apartment is now the home of two older folks who just aren’t seeing things or caring about things the way they used to see and care.  Here Chast confronts her first conundrum.  What should she do about this new state of affairs?  Clean up after her parents, who clearly are horrified by this effort?  Ignore it? The issue becomes more complicated as their health begins to decline in subtle and obvious ways.  From poor health to worse health, from living independently to living in a nursing home, from being an autonomous human to being helpless and sick, Chast’s parents go through it all.  Again, with humor and wit, Chast takes us along for the cruel and sad ride, and we find laughter at what is otherwise truly distressing.  But if you go through this yourself with your own parents, you will find Chast refreshing and on target, not depressing or disrespectful of her parents.

We all know how this story ends – the same way this kind of story in real life always ends, with the older folks leaving, and I don’t mean going to Atlantic City for the weekend.  Even so, Roz Chast helps us along by sharing her experiences in this ordeal and letting us know that at the end of it all, you can still have your parents with you in a way, although I’m not sure I’d want my parents’ ashes in a closet in my bedroom.  Still, it seems to fit in with the scheme of things in the life of Roz Chast and her folks.

D. L. S.

Library Reads Books for May

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

These are the 10 hot new titles selected by librarians across the country for May.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart





All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr





The Bees by Laline Paull





Delicious! by Ruth Reichl





The Forgotten Seamstress by Liz Trenow





Bird Box by Josh Malerman





Bittersweet by Miranda Beverley-Whittemore





Delancy: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg





Sixth Grave on the Edge by Darynda Jones





The Blessings by Elise Juska





Click on a title to go straight to our catalog.  Editor

How About Never…?

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

How About Never – Is Never Good for You?:  My Life in Cartoons  by Bob Mankoff

Do you enjoy looking at the cartoons in The New Yorker?  Have you ever puzzled over just what makes a cartoon from The New Yorker superior to nearly any other cartoon you have ever seen?  Have you ever had a secret fantasy to get a cartoon published in The New Yorker?  If you would like answers to any of those questions, take a look at Bob Mankoff’s autobiography/history of cartooning/analysis of cartoon humor in general and The New Yorker cartoon humor in particular in this thoroughly entertaining book, How About Never – Is Never Good for You?

 Mankoff was a cartoonist for the magazine years before he became the cartoon editor, probably the best job a person could ever have.  He came into the editing position during the Tina Brown years and has stayed on ever since, adding editing to his other two jobs of cartooning for the magazine and of managing the Cartoon Bank, a database of cartoons submitted to  The New Yorker, making them available for reuse by the public.  His wit and energy move the reader through a short autobiography of the author, noting how he aspired to be a cartoonist for The New Yorker  and what it took him to get there.  He does in fact explore also a brief history of cartooning, and from there he analyzes just what makes a cartoon from The New Yorker funny.  What is that humor, anyway?  Subtle but not too subtle, sophisticated but prone to silliness, never too obscure, the cartoons do demand some thought.  And if you don’t get it, well, Mankoff may not have gotten it either before editing suggestions.  He looks at the signature cartoon humor in the larger culture, as, for example, when Elaine of Seinfeld strives to get a published cartoon explained to her and then tries valiantly to get her own cartoon accepted for publication.  Finally, Mankoff offers hints on how to win at the ever popular Caption Contest, held weekly for aspiring humorists.

The book is packed with cartoon examples, giving readers a chance to savor some of the best published.  By the way, the title, if you don’t recognize it, is the caption from Mankoff’s most famous cartoon of a man trying to set up a business engagement.  Full of laughs, this book will quite possibly make you want to see more volumes of cartoons from that venerable publication, The New Yorker.

D. L. S.

A Prayer Journal

Monday, April 7th, 2014

 A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor

While she was a young student of writing, before she published anything of significance that would launch her onto the world stage as one of America’s greatest Southern writers, before anyone really knew who she was, Flannery O’Connor kept a journal of prayers.  And now that deeply personal journal addressed to God is available for us to share.  Each entry, composed between 1946 and 1947, offers words of sincere wonder, gratitude, doubt, and faith.  The journal is short on length, but long on thoughtfulness, as a young woman wanders into her adult life, wondering just what her relationship to God is.  For quiet contemplation, try reading this.  It won’t take long to read; but it may stay with you for years to come.

 D. L. S.

LibraryReads Top Ten for April

Monday, March 24th, 2014

The Storied Life of A. J. Kikry: a Novel by Gabrielle Zevin.




Frog Music: a Novel by Emma Donoghue.




And the Dark Sacred Night: a Novel by Julia Glass.




Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James.




By Its Cover: a Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery by Donna Leon.




The Intern’s Handbook: a Thriller by Shane Kuhn.




Love Nina: a Nanny Writes Home by Nina Stibbe.

The Axe Factor: a Jim Juree Mystery by Colin Cotteril.




Family Life: a Novel by Akhil  Sharma.

On the Rocks: a Novel by Erin Duffy.





Not I

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Not I:  Memoirs of a German Childhood, by Joachim Fest

What would it be like to grow up in Germany during the rise of the Nazis?  Joachim Fest’s memoir takes us on that journey, year by terrifying year.  One of five children born into a household of conservative and morally committed parents, Fest relays to us how an otherwise happy childhood was impacted by the Nazis, with the secret meetings of like-minded friends, the gradual loss of individual freedoms, and the dire life that awaited a family whose father was forbidden to work for his insufficient embrace of the government of the Third Reich.

Fest’s father was a firm Catholic, and unlike so many other Germans, he found no room in his beliefs for the ugliness and hate that the National Socialists fomented through their propaganda, lies, laws, restrictions, and suspicions.  For his moral stand, he was cast out of his job as a civil servant and denied further work.  Rather than compromise his principles, he held firm and thus taught his admiring children that a higher moral principle was far more important than material comforts.

Despite the family’s descent into hardship, Fest enjoyed a happy childhood, full of lively political discussions, fascinating family friends (many of whom died at the hands of the Third Reich), and a rich schooling both in the classroom and around the dinner table that Fest carefully delineates for us, as he expands his reading tastes from the likes of Karl May to Goethe.

As World War II moved forward and Germany began to suffer staggering defeats, Fest reached the tender age of seventeen and thus found himself in the military.  Eventually captured by the Americans, he spent the final months of the war in a POW camp.  Upon his release, he journeyed back to Berlin, where he found a city destroyed but still full of life, now with the joyous sounds of American jazz everywhere.  Still, it is a frightening tale, full of woe.  That his family survived more or less in tact is a miracle.  That their morals remained firmly in place by the book’s end is not at all surprising.

For a look at German society first under the Weimar Republic and then unbelievably under the National Socialists, turn the pages of this memoir to find a rich if bitterly sad interpretation of German life in the 20th century.

D. L. S.

LibraryReads Selections for March

Monday, March 10th, 2014

LibraryReads is a website that publishes the top ten books published each month that librarians across the country love.  Click here for more info.

This is the list for March.  Click on a highlighted title to go straight to our catalog.

The Weight of  Blood: a Novel by Laura McHugh.




The Accident by Chris Pavone.




The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger.




The Outcast Dead: a Ruth Galloway Mystery by Elly Griffiths.




Panic by Lauren Oliver.




A Circle of Wives by Alice LaPlante.




Gemini: a Novel by Carol Cassella.




Precious Thing: a Novel by Colette McBeth.




Kill Fee: a Stevens and Windermere Novel  by Owen Laukkanen.




Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon.




Hyperbole and a Half

Friday, February 21st, 2014

Hyperbole and a Half:  Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh  (Find this book in our catalog.)

It’s nice to be reading and laughing over a book that nearly everyone else I know is reading and laughing over, as though as a reader, I am finally a part of a shared literary community.  This is one of those books about which your friends might ask, “And did you read the part about…?”  And more laughs erupt.  Drawn from her blog of the same name, Brosh lays out for us in a kind of memoir just what the subtitle says:  memories of lots of mayhem, failure, limited successes, unfortunate adventures and various other misadventures, and then most of all, lots of laughs.  The illustrations are a hoot as well.

Some of Brosh’s life misadventures include her insatiable appetite for cake that deeply impacts her decision to go after her grandfather’s birthday cake even if it is not the best decision for a sugar-sensitive, hyperactive child.  But who ever said children had good judgment?  The goose story is another memorable tale when a wild goose enters her house and terrorizes her for a number of, well, it seems like days, but it is most likely a little less than that.  Her various episodes with her dogs are probably the funniest, with Simple Dog and Helper Dog, neither one of which has much to offer in the way of redeeming qualities.  But both have found a loving home with Brosh and reward her in turn fully, keeping in their dog minds the truism that “No good deed goes unpunished.”

Not all of the subjects discussed in this memoir are laughing matters, as when Brosh explores her bout with depression in ways that are not funny at all but actually terrifying and very real to the readers.  She describes desperately trying to seem all right, wondering if her smile looks real as someone tells her some good news or of her feeling of absolute immobilization as she lies abed for hours on end or dwells in corners.  We are all relieved when she climbs out of that horror of her life.

Most of all, readers will find a humanity in her stories.  Exaggerated as they may seem, maybe things really did happen that way, because after all, isn’t life like that?

D. L. S.